Economics over education.(COMMENTARY)

Article excerpt


Last Thursday, the Supreme Court favorably decided a case so fundamentally about freedom that its very adjudication was hard to believe.

It involved an experimental Cleveland program offering low-income children scholarships to attend either public or private schools. Your education, your choice - what could be more straightforward? Yet it was not just opposed, but vehemently so, by the public education industry. This opposition raises two questions: Why is the public education industry so opposed to this particular experiment and why are they so generally liberal?

The answer to both questions has more to do with economics than education.

Begun in 1996 because of unrelenting mismanagement in Cleveland's public schools, the Ohio Pilot Scholarship Program offers low-income children up to $2,500 annually through eighth grade to pay either a private or on an out-of-district public school's tuition. No out-of-district public schools chose to participate, so in the 1999-2000 school year all 3,761 students participated attended private schools. Because 96 percent of program students chose to attend church-affiliated schools, it was hauled before the courts on the grounds of violating the Constitution's establishment of religion clause under the First Amendment.

The federal government's unqualified extension of higher education assistance - regardless if a student attends a religious school - easily refutes the ostensible objection on religious grounds that caused the suit.

More troubling is the public education industry's persistent opposition to a full range of choice in K-12 that is equal to the range of choice already available for college students.

The public education industry levels three serious charges against giving a full range of choice for students: tuition support is too low, money will be taken from public schools, and the best, easier to educate, students will leave the public school system. However, if you examine all three together the argument falls apart.

First however you must ignore the basic unfairness of a willingness to sacrifice an individual's future to the assertion that they need to be present to help others learn. Ask yourself two questions: Do people pick colleges for themselves on that basis and would you be willing to limit your child's opportunity on it? The answer is a resounding "no" to both.

Nor do the critics' charges agree with the facts. According to the U.S. Department of Education, Ohio spent $6,808 per pupil on average in 1997-98 (the national average was $6,662). Far from being a drain on the school system's budget, the $2,500 annual amount is a bargain. …